Thousands of people struggle with guilt connected with abortion. It haunts women who have had them, men who have encouraged them, and doctors who have performed them. One doctor reported in The New York Times that she had to prepare herself emotionally and often endured sleepless nights before performing abortions: “It’s a very tough thing for a gynecologist to do,” she said. “The emotions it arouses are so strong . . . that doctors don’t talk to each other about it.” On one occasion, this doctor collapsed on the floor, overcome by emotion, after performing an abortion.
Guilt is a powerful emotion, one that has the capacity to inflict severe psychological paralysis on people. I once was approached by a practicing psychiatrist with an offer to join his staff. He explained that a large number of his patients were suffering from problems related to severe guilt. “These people don’t need a doctor, they need a priest,” he said. “They need someone to tell them they are forgiven.”
This psychiatrist had no loyalty to Christianity; he was simply concerned about the mental health of his patients. He understood the devastating power of unresolved guilt, and he recognized that denial and rationalization were not effective means of dealing with real guilt. The only effective cure for real guilt is real forgiveness. To try to cover the stain on our hands is a poor substitute for having the stain removed.
Experiencing God’s forgiveness
To experience the profound liberation of forgiveness, one must simply go to God and confess the sin with a humble heart and a contrite spirit. Contrition involves a genuine and godly sorrow for having disobeyed God. It differs from the repentance of attrition, which is a false form of repentance motivated by a fear of punishment. Attrition is seen in a child who, when he sees a paddle in his mother’s hand, is sorry that he got caught with his hand in the cookie jar. True repentance acknowledges the reality of the guilt and does not try to justify it. Anyone who approaches God with true humility, contrition, and an earnest resolution not to commit the sin again will surely receive the forgiveness of God…
Though what I have done cannot be undone, I can be forgiven. Forgiveness is one of the marvels of God’s grace. Its healing power is magnificent. If a woman has been involved in abortion, God does not require that she spend the rest of her life walking around with a red “A” on her chest. He does require that she repent of her sin and come to Him for the cleansing of forgiveness. When God forgives us, we are forgiven. When God cleanses us, we are made clean. That is a cause for great celebration.